If you grew up in the 1980’s, you’ll remember popular TV sitcom Family Ties. The thing about popular culture is that it is almost always a product of the time that it was created. The trends and fashions and political winds that were blowing at the time are generally found in the entertainment options that are popular.
People want to see life being imitated in their art. It helps them digest the topics of the day and makes them feel part of a larger conversation.
There is perhaps no greater example of this phenomena than the popularity of the comedy Family Ties in the 1980s. And, popular it was, at the peak of its popularity, Family Times was a top 10 show for three straight years from 1984 to 1987.
On the surface, Family Ties was just a standard family comedy, leaning on the classic trope of a generational gap to propel the polt and supply the jokes. However, the hook of the show was that it turned that classic storytelling device on its head.
Instead of having the younger characters as being socially and politically liberal and butting heads with their more conservative parents, it was actually the parents that held liberal views that were in conflict with their conservative son, Alex P. Keaton.
Played by actor Michael J. Fox, the character represented a growing trend of the time that saw young people rejecting the liberal politics that dominated the conversation in the 1960s and ’70s and, instead, embracing the conservative politics of Ronald Reagan. That was particularly the case as it related to money and business issues.
Alex P. Keaton was a fictional representation of that. He was obsessed with making money and with becoming a successful businessman, much to the lament of his liberal parents who had hoped their children would follow them into a life of working towards social justice.
Although Alex P. Keaton was the star of the series and his relatability was a driving part of the show’s popularity, his character would not have been as successful without the supporting characters in the family, each of which represented a type of person that was common in the ’80s.
As mentioned, Alex’s parents, Elyse and Steven Keaton, represented the aging hippie. Many people of the same age at the time would have found the move towards conservatism that their children were undertaking to have been as baffling and concerning as the Keaton’s did with Alex.
Alex’s sister, Mallory, in many ways represented the silent majority of people. She was politically agnostic, primarily interested in taking advantage of the privilege her middle class upbringing provided her. His other sister, Jennifer, represents the child at the time that embraced her parent’s values, rather than rejecting them. Like her counterparts at the time, she was often overlooked and bullied from having her opinions heard.
A younger brother, Andy, was added to the cast late in the shows run and primarily used as a “mini Alex.”
Ultimately, it was the reliability of the characters and the way that the show mirrored the national conversation that was happening at the time that made Family Ties one of the most iconic shows of the 1980s.